Without discussion or amendments, the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved the district’s budget for the 2023-24 school year at its June 13 meeting at the Davis Center. This will be the last school year the district can rely on its one-time pandemic aid to balance its budget. Federal pandemic aid, called ESSER, must be spent by September 30, 2024. The district has been using its pandemic relief to maintain staffing despite significant decreases in enrollment in recent years.
Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox struck a rosy tone at the meeting, noting that the credit rating agency Fitch has maintained the district’s rating and moved its outlook to “positive” from “stable”. This change is an indication that Fitch views the district as able to meet its debt obligations. But, Cox also acknowledged the challenges ahead for the district. Previously, Cox has said the district plans to begin planning for the next budget cycle in July, which is earlier than the usual timeline.
The board first reviewed the proposed budget on May 9. Since that meeting, the district revised the budget to incorporate $32 million in additional State funding in the revenue portion of the budget. The approved budget allocates about 10% of those new funds to district priorities around security, student mental health, cybersecurity and contracted support for human resources.
The revised budget increased the amount of one-time pandemic funds the district will use next year by $6 million, bringing the total amount of ESSER funding in the budget to $96 million.
The final budget will use just $1 million of assigned fund balance, a reduction from the $40 million included in the draft resolution. Cox told the board that if they wish to amend the budget in August, the district would have to rely on its assigned fund balance to cover any new expenditures. Assigned fund balance consists of funding that either the board or Superintendent have designated for a specific purpose. Board policy requires the district to use available assigned fund balance for expenses before using unassigned fund balance.
On Friday, June 15, the district communications department sent two emails about the budget and recent, but unnamed, reporting on the budget. One email was a press release. The other email was sent to all district employees as a letter from Senior Officer of Finance and Operations, Ibrahima Diop. Both emails link to a collection of documents on the district’s budget posted online, including a new document summarizing the impact of new State aid on district finances.
The emails emphasize the district’s improved credit outlook, echoing Cox’s comments at the board meeting on June 13. The district also emphasizes that it expects an additional $20 million in State aid in the 2024-25 school year, which it says will partially offset the $97 million of one-time funding the district is using to balance its 2023-24 budget.
The district did not include an update of its projected expenses in the 2024-25 school year. According to the Pro Forma memo from November 2022, the district expected its general fund expenses to increase by $11.6 million in the 2024-25 school year. That estimate does not include the cost of new policies adopted by the Legislature, and it assumes that labor costs increase by 2.5%. The district is preparing to begin contract negotiations with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers educational support professionals and teacher chapters. Their collective bargaining agreements expire on June 30.
Investments in Literacy and Academic Intervention
As is typical for the June board meeting, the consent agenda included several new and renewed contracts, as the district prepares for the upcoming school year. The board approved the consent agenda unanimously without discussion.
The district is making investments, in alignment with its strategic plan, in the area of literacy. The district is increasing its contract with the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota from approximately $1 million in the current school year to over $3 million next year. The contract will include support for the Functional Phonics curriculum, an elementary literacy intervention called PRESS, and LETRS professional development. LETRS is an intensive, two-year professional development program for educators based on the science of reading.
The district is also expanding the number of LETRS training licenses that it will purchase. In the current school year, the district budgeted for eighty educators to participate in the LETRS training program. Next year, the district is purchasing nearly 400 licenses at a cost of $160,000.
The district is also continuing its partnership with Groves Academy next year, a contract valued at $750,000. At participating schools, at least 90% of educators must agree to participate in a three-year program for literacy professional development, coaching and curriculum implementation. The training and curriculum help schools transition to using the science of reading for literacy instruction. Barton, Bethune, Burroughs, Jenny Lind, Nellie Stone Johnson and Northrop have participated in the program since the 2021-22 school year. Minneapolis Schools Voices is waiting to hear back from the district to find out if any additional schools will be participating next year.
The district is purchasing eduCLIMBER, software that will allow the district to track the amount, type and impact of academic interventions that it is providing to students who are currently below grade level in reading and math. The contract amount cannot exceed $224,000.
Currently, the district does not have any way to track how many students are receiving academic interventions, which interventions schools are using or what impact interventions are having on students’ academic outcomes.
Next year, the district will spend approximately $30 million on academic intervention teams across the district, serving about 10,000 students who are below grade level in literacy, math or both.
The board also reviewed a proposal to change the district’s policy for students’ personal technology use. Under the new proposed new policy, high school and middle school students will be permitted to use personal technology during the school day. Teachers and students are expected to co-create norms, unique to each class, to determine how students may use their personal technology during instructional time. The policy did not change for students in elementary grades.
After some discussion, the board approved a resolution brought by Director Joyner Emerick that directs the superintendent to propose a community work group on special education. Emerick expressed a desire that the work group be separate from the existing Special Education Advisory Committee, made up of parents of students who qualify for special education services. As the parent of a disabled child and a disabled person themselves, Emerick spoke about the need for the district to recognize students’ cultural identity as disabled. They also said the work group could be instrumental in advising the district as part of the “transformation” process.
The full board will meet on August 9.